July 23 - September 11, 2011
Kai Chan's show consists of new works he specifically created for the Durham Art Gallery and includes a large, site-specific wall sculpture that he will craft the week leading up to the opening on Saturday, July 23.
Chan's artistic trademark is his masterful and aesthetically striking transformation of simple, everyday objects and materials. Chan celebrates the commonplace with a Zen-like artistic sensibility while striving to balance past (China) and present (Canada), East and West, affinity and contrast, spirit and form. (It is interesting to note that the word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán). "I have chosen to work with simple everyday, and often recyclable and found materials, as the nature of these materials represent, for me, a fundamental value that informs living. Indeed, I no longer find that mainstream or 'traditional' art materials encompass the range of integral meanings that can capture my concerns about living in our contemporary world. I look instead, to the simultaneously irregular and linear qualities of threads and tree branches to suggest the structure and meaning of Chinese characters and calligraphy. Using the tension of such characteristics, similarly rooted in other materials, provides me with the tools to negotiate a balance between East and the West within the concept of my art practice. I thus work to achieve an understanding that product and process in art making emerge as the essence of living a life."
Kai ChanThreads, nails, twigs, strings, broken glass, plastic bags, recycled wood and cardboard, dried lime fruit and chestnuts are the prevailing materials that inform the delicate pieces Chan has created for this show. Each work is charged with experiential wisdom, a great economy of means and insightful observation, introspective and personal, while the title of each piece references its dominant colours. Here Chan uses the highly symbolic language of colours as a door through which we can enter his artistic realm and gain understanding of the artist and his work. Black, red, blue-green, white and yellow are standard colors in traditional Chinese art and culture, and correspond to the five elements of water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
Chan has created a site-specific sculptural assemblage entitled Black, White, Red especially for this exhibition. A sea of black is painted directly on the white gallery wall with Chinese ink. Out of this dark surface emerges the silhouette of an abstract figure shaped by red silk threads and suspended from carefully organized nails. The threads are those that Tibetans braid into their hair which Chan brought back from a visit to Tibet. Black and white—the two ends of the colour spectrum—represent contrast. In ancient China black was regarded as the king of colors, while these days it is the colour of the inexpensive casual wear worn by impoverished Chinese as colour garments are considered expensive commodities. Furthermore, unlike its Western meanings of purity, innocence, and cleanliness, white is associated with death and funerals in Chinese culture, while red symbolizes good fortune, joy and happiness.
Purity and simplicity are the essence of Kai Chan's striking and delightful art, and echo the meditative aesthetic of his cultural heritage. The poetry and musicality of his visual creations have the power to draw the viewer into a meditative state, silently whispering "slow down, look into your own mind and realize what is already present."
Originally from Sichuan, China, Kai Chan made Canada his official home in 1966. His work has been extensively exhibited and collected across Canada and internationally. In 2002 Chan was the recipient of the prestigious Saidye Bronfman Award. In 2010, coinciding with his 70th birthday, the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto organized a major retrospective tracing the evolution of Chan's thirty-five years of artistic practice and concerns. Kai Chan: A Spider's Logic was first presented concurrently at the Varley Art Gallery in Markham and the Textile Museum of Canada and is now touring across Canada including the Musée d'art de Joliette, the Mendel Art Gallery and the Cambridge Art Galleries. This critically acclaimed retrospective was curated by Sarah Quinton, senior curator at the Textile Museum of Canada. Quinton kindly agreed to introduce Kai Chan at the opening on Saturday, July 23, 2011 at 3pm.